Leadership: Laying the foundations for success

Leadership:  Laying the foundations for success

Organisations and their leaders have long considered engagement as the key mechanism to trigger greater employee contribution to business performance. Over the past decade there has certainly been strong evidence to support the case that when employees are more engaged business performance goes up. But is employee engagement alone enough to foster and support consistent and durable business performance?  Recent research is saying that it is not, and that the key variable in the engagement equation is employee wellbeing.

This growing body of research indicates that without wellbeing, simply described as an employee’s positive emotional state and sense of fulfilment, engagement is often short-lived or unsustainable.  


Without a sense of wellbeing employees are at the risk of burnout as they can feel overwhelmed and unable to constructively cope with the day to day challenges and stressors in their workplace. This inability to cope can impact negatively on outcomes, undermine results, increase the risk of costly mistakes and result in a decline in both performance and productivity. Clearly then engagement plus wellbeing equals even better and more sustainable business performance for the longer term (Towers Watson 2013).       

So how do we cultivate wellbeing and importantly, what impact does leadership have if any on influencing employee wellbeing? 

We certainly know that leadership has an impact on employee and organisational performance. In particular two leadership styles, the Transformational and Authentic Leadership approaches, have amounted a great deal of evidence to support this. Authentic leadership is characterised by a heightened level of self- awareness and a commitment to honesty and integrity, by which authentic leaders are able to build higher levels of trust and confidence in their followers. Transformational leaders on the other hand are characterised by role modelling a specific set of behaviours that positively impact on their followers, inspiring and motivating them to go beyond what they thought was possible. But while these two leadership approaches have demonstrated a strong link to employee and organisational performance, have they been shown to have any impact on employee wellbeing specifically? 

Well more recently researchers have been looking at the impact of both the Authentic and Transformational leadership styles on employee wellbeing and have found that there is a strong positive relationship. Authentic leaders have been shown to impact employee wellbeing by generating positive emotional states in their followers, fostering a greater sense of comfort and safety. Similarly studies have also shown that Transformational leaders, through the generation of positive behaviours and interactions, create a positive contagion that leads to increased levels of satisfaction and a sense of empowerment in employees. So both Authentic and Transformational styles of leadership have a positive impact on employee wellbeing.  But how exactly are they doing this? The answer is through the mechanism of connecting employees with a greater sense of meaning and purpose. 

Transformational leaders do this by creating the conditions whereby employees are motivated to go beyond the here and now and connect what they do to a larger purpose, thereby increasing their sense of fulfilment, achievement and determination. Authentic leaders through their keen awareness of themselves and their capabilities are able to engage in real and honest interactions and conversations with staff. This facilitates employees in better understanding their own values, strengths and capabilities, which cultivates a greater sense of purpose, confidence and self-belief. The positive emotional states that both these styles of leadership generate in employees are the key to driving greater levels of wellbeing. So both Authentic and Transformational Leadership generate higher levels of employee wellbeing by facilitating an employee’s connection to meaningful work and a larger purpose. By doing so Authentic and Transformational Leadership are critical players in cultivating an important pillar in the sustainable engagement equation.    

So which is best you might ask – Authentic or Transformational Leadership?  The answer is that both are important elements in the make-up of any successful leader. A transformational leader will achieve even better outcomes when they work on developing the leader within first.  Together they then form a powerful formula for producing sustainable engagement and superior employee and organisational performance. 


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Guest Wednesday, 26 June 2019